Gilad Atzmon : These are not my wishes. I myself believe that our planet will be much safer without a Jewish state. I have only one wish for Israel, that it would become a state of its citizens.
At a time of forgiveness, why is Helen Thomas still being ostracized?
|Helen Thomas, who once
occupied a front-row seat in the White House briefing
room, has been completely ostracized due to some inelegantly-put remarks
about Israel captured
on film by provocateurs [EPA]
In 1960, I was fixated on emulating the courageous media personalities of the times, from Edward R. Murrow to a distinctive figure I came to admire at presidential press conferences – a wire service reporter named Helen Thomas.
In recent years, my faith in the power of dialogue in politics has been severely tested – as, no doubt has hers – in an age where diatribes and deliberate demonization chills debate and exchanges of opposing views.
Once you are labeled and stereotyped – especially if you are denounced as an anti-Semite – you are relegated to the fringes, pronounced a hater beyond redemption, and even beyond explanation.
As the legendary Helen Thomas soon found out.
The rise of a legend
As a member in good standing of an activist generation, I saw myself more as an outsider in contrast to Helen’s distinctive credentials as an insider, as a White House bureau chief and later as the dean of the White House Correspondents’ Association.
Yet, beneath her establishment credentials and status, she was always an outsider too – one of nine children born to a family of Lebanese immigrants in Winchester Kentucky, who despite their Middle East origins were Christians in the Greek Orthodox Church.
She became a woman who broke the glass ceiling in the clubby, mostly male, inside-the-beltway world of big egos and self-important media prima donnas.
Her origins were more modest. She grew up in an ethnic neighborhood in Detroit.
Helen received her bachelor’s degree from Wayne State University in 1942, the year I was born. Earlier this year, her alma mater, of which she had taken so much pride in her achievements, canceled the award in her name.
A fall from grace
The withdrawal of her name from the prominent award was a striking gesture of cowardice and submission to an incident blown out of proportion that instantly turned Helen from a ‘she-ro’ to a zero.
The Simon Wiesenthal Center put her on their top ten list of anti-Semites after angry remarks she made about Israel went viral and exploded into a major story.
President Barack Obama who cheerfully brought her a birthday cake, later labeled her remarks as “reprehensible”.
You would think that given all the vicious ad hominems, Godwins and putdowns directed at him, he would be more cautious tossing slurs at others.
But no, all politicians pander to deflect criticism whenever the wind of enmity blows their way.
Now it was Helen who was being compared to Hitler in the latest furor.
Snakes and Foxes
Then suddenly last June, I, like everyone in the world of media, was stunned to witness her public fall from grace, partly self-inflicted, perhaps because of the inelegant language used in response to an ambush interview by provocateur father-son Israeli advocates posing as journalists.
They were following in the footsteps of the vicious comments by Ann Coulter earlier denouncing Thomas as an “old Arab” sitting yards from the President as if she were threatening him. She refused to dignify that smear with a response.
I didn’t know until she told me that she had also been hounded for years by Abe Foxman, a leader of the Anti-Defamation League who demanded she explain 25 questions she asked presidents over the decades.
“I didn’t answer,” she told me, “because I don’t respond to junk mail.”
Bait and switch
Helen always stuck to her guns. She was considered the marquise of journalists that presidents respected. She even went to China with Nixon.
She has, however, always been polite enough to try to answer questions from strangers without always realizing who she was dealing with in a new world of media hit jobs, where “gotcha” YouTube videos thrive on spontaneous embarrassing moments, what we used to call “bloopers.”
She had been baited and fell for it. Unaware of how the video could be used, she vented and then regretted doing so. It was too late. That short media snippet triggered millions of hits.
Helen later apologized for how she said what she did without retracting the essence of her convictions.
But by then, it was too late. Her long career was instantly terminated. The perception became everything; the context nothing.
She tried to be conciliatory, saying, “I deeply regret my comments I made last week regarding the Israelis and the Palestinians. They do not reflect my heart-felt belief that peace will come to the Middle East only when all parties recognize the need for mutual respect and tolerance. May that day come soon.”
Her remarks were derided and dismissed, with the pundits and papers demanding her head. She had no choice but to resign after her company, agent, co-author and many “friends” started treating her like a pariah.
“You cannot criticize Israel in this country and survive,” she says now.
She was forced into retirement and thrown to the wolves in a media culture that relishes stories of personal destruction and misfortune. It’s the old ‘the media builds you up before they tear you down’ routine.
As blogger Jamie Frieze wrote, “I don’t think she should have been forced to resign. After all, freedom of speech doesn’t come with the right to be comfortable. In other words, the fact that you’re uncomfortable doesn’t trump my free speech. Thomas made people uncomfortable, but that doesn’t mean her speech should be punished.”
But punished she was.
A lesson learned
When I called Helen Thomas to ask if she might be willing to share some of her thoughts on what happened, I found her as eloquent as ever, supportive of Wikileaks, critical of grand jury harassment in the Mid West against Palestinian supporters and angry with President Obama for his many right turns and spineless stands.
She was, she said, on a path outside the White House when a rabbi, David Nesenoff, asked to speak to her, and introduced his two sons whom he said wanted to become journalists (one of whom wasn’t actually his son).
“That happens to me a lot,” she said, “and I told them about my love of journalism and that they should pursue their goals. I was gracious, and told them to go for it.”
Then the subject abruptly changed. “‘What do you think of Israel’ they asked next. It was all very pleasant and I don’t blame them for asking,” she told me. But, then, she added, she didn’t know the people would’ve “shoved a microphone in my face like a jack knife.”
It wasn’t just any rabbi making conversation. Nesenoff is an ardent Israel supporter who runs a website called ‘Rabbi Live’ and can be a flamboyant self-promoter. He says, “Even though I was born in Glen Cove and grew up in Syosset Long Island, Israel is my Jewish homeland. It is the homeland for all Jewish people.”
The sin of silence
She remembered being moved by a rabbi who spoke alongside Martin Luther King Jr at the March on Washington in 1963. I was there also, and heard him speak too, and so I looked him up.
It was Joachim Prinz of the American Jewish Congress who made a speech that influenced a younger Helen Thomas. He said, “When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.”
Helen says her whole career has been about combating the sin of silence. She says she has now been liberated to speak out.
“All I would like is for people to know what I was trying to say, that Palestinians are living under tyranny and that their rights are being violated. All I want is some sympathy for Palestinians,” she says.
Forgotten but not forgiven
Now it’s the holiday season, allegedly a time of peace and forgiveness when presidents issue pardons to convicted criminals and reflection is theoretically permitted, a time when even a State Department hawk like Richard Holbrooke can, on his deathbed, it is said, call for an end to the Afghan war that he had dogmatically supported.
We have watched the rehabilitation of so many politicians over recent years who have stumbled, taken money or disgraced themselves in sex scandals, including senators and even presidents.
Helen Thomas is not in that category.
Yet, many of those “fallen” are back in action, tarnished perhaps, but allowed to recant, to work and then reappear in the media.
But, to this day, there has been almost no compassion, empathy or respect shown for one of our great journalists, Helen Thomas, who has been presumed guilty and sentenced to oblivion with barely a word spoken in her defense.
How can we expect Israelis and Palestinians to reconcile if our media won’t set an example by reconciling with Helen Thomas?
Danny Schechter edits Mediachannel.org. He directed Plunder The Crime of Our Time, a film on DVD about the financial crisis as a crime story. (Plunderthecrimeofourtime.com)
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
There is a revolution growing inside of us, an immense dissatisfaction and frustration that will destroy us unless we find a way of canalizing this energy into something that can challenge the status quo and give us some kind of hope. The final drop that made our hearts tremble with frustration and hopelessness happened 30rd November, when Hamas’ officers came to Sharek Youth Forum, a leading youth organization (www.sharek.ps) with their guns, lies and aggressiveness, throwing everybody outside, incarcerating some and prohibiting Sharek from working. A few days later, demonstrators in front of Sharek were beaten and some incarcerated. We are really living a nightmare inside a nightmare. It is difficult to find words for the pressure we are under. We barely survived the Operation Cast Lead, where Israel very effectively bombed the shit out of us, destroying thousands of homes and even more lives and dreams. They did not get rid of Hamas, as they intended, but they sure scared us forever and distributed post traumatic stress syndrome to everybody, as there was nowhere to run.
We are youth with heavy hearts. We carry in ourselves a heaviness so immense that it makes it difficult to us to enjoy the sunset. How to enjoy it when dark clouds paint the horizon and bleak memories run past our eyes every time we close them? We smile in order to hide the pain. We laugh in order to forget the war. We hope in order not to commit suicide here and now. During the war we got the unmistakable feeling that Israel wanted to erase us from the face of the earth. During the last years Hamas has been doing all they can to control our thoughts, behaviour and aspirations. We are a generation of young people used to face missiles, carrying what seems to be a impossible mission of living a normal and healthy life, and only barely tolerated by a massive organization that has spread in our society as a malicious cancer disease, causing mayhem and effectively killing all living cells, thoughts and dreams on its way as well as paralyzing people with its terror regime. Not to mention the prison we live in, a prison sustained by a so-called democratic country.
History is repeating itself in its most cruel way and nobody seems to care. We are scared. Here in Gaza we are scared of being incarcerated, interrogated, hit, tortured, bombed, killed. We are afraid of living, because every single step we take has to be considered and well-thought, there are limitations everywhere, we cannot move as we want, say what we want, do what we want, sometimes we even cant think what we want because the occupation has occupied our brains and hearts so terrible that it hurts and it makes us want to shed endless tears of frustration and rage!
We do not want to hate, we do not want to feel all of this feelings, we do not want to be victims anymore. ENOUGH! Enough pain, enough tears, enough suffering, enough control, limitations, unjust justifications, terror, torture, excuses, bombings, sleepless nights, dead civilians, black memories, bleak future, heart aching present, disturbed politics, fanatic politicians, religious bullshit, enough incarceration! WE SAY STOP! This is not the future we want!
We want three things. We want to be free. We want to be able to live a normal life. We want peace. Is that too much to ask? We are a peace movement consistent of young people in Gaza and supporters elsewhere that will not rest until the truth about Gaza is known by everybody in this whole world and in such a degree that no more silent consent or loud indifference will be accepted.
This is the Gazan youth’s manifesto for change!
We will start by destroying the occupation that surrounds ourselves, we will break free from this mental incarceration and regain our dignity and self respect. We will carry our heads high even though we will face resistance. We will work day and night in order to change these miserable conditions we are living under. We will build dreams where we meet walls.
We only hope that you – yes, you reading this statement right now! – can support us. In order to find out how, please write on our wall or contact us directly: firstname.lastname@example.org
We want to be free, we want to live, we want peace.
FREE GAZA YOUTH!
from around the world to join in our struggle for freedom.
events in Shaikh Jarrah, Silwan, and ethnically cleansed villages behind the
green line. After two nights in Jerusalem focusing on the increased
pressures to isolate and destroy life for the remaining inhabitants of this Palestinian city, the activists were to come to Al-Walaja village (a village that suffers from colonial settlement activities on the small percentage of its land that remains after Israel took over 75%). The Israeli apartheid army tried in vain to prevent the event from happening from preventing a bus company from transporting activists to blocking the road to the village to threatening people in the village. Strong will and creative on-the-spot triumphed maneuvers frustrated the army’s maneuver and all did in through
other means to hold a huge demonstration of at least 200 people
(Palestinians and Internationals including some Israelis). Not allowing empty buses to come to pick the demonstrators, we still managed to get everyone out safely to go the manger square for the traditional Christmas procession. With over 50 volunteers wearing bright yellow vests (Handala and Free Palestine prominently printed on them), we distributed over 2000 ‘Christmas Cards’ to the Christian pilgrims. The cards referred to the wish for peace with justice and linked to the Kairos document, a call by Palestinian Christians issued a year ago (see http://www.kairospalestine.ps)
Later in the afternoon, we traveled to Beit Jala where we shared putting-up a Christmas tree at the home of Abu Michel, a Christian whose land was taken over for the apartheid wall. Then onto Aida refugee camp for a meaningful Christmas Eve with refugees. Christmas day was spent mostly in Hebron old city including in a demonstration against the racist settlers who continue to attempt to destroy the old city. The occupation authorities used tear
gas and stun grenades and kidnapped two internationals (French and a Scottish, both released later at night). Some Internationals joined us in the candle light march in the Shepherds’ field that evening (over 2000 attended, a marvelous event; here is a video of it
stun grenades (video here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L6uqb9ZuuCY ).
Later in the evening, we had an evening of camaraderie and solidarity despite attempts to politicize the event by some. The next day, the
delegation visited Nablus (see photos at
http://www.europalestine.com/spip.php?article5724 ) and on the way back stopped by Beitil and had a demonstration against the closure of roads inside the west bank to Palestinian travel (photos at
http://www.europalestine.com/spip.php?article5721 ). Two were detained and several injuries were reported due to the Israeli assault on the peaceful demonstration. All detained in these various demonstrations were mistreated
but were eventually released.
I urge all to come visit us and see what is happening in the “little town of
Bethlehem”: 170,000 people nearly half of them are refugees crowded into 13%
of the original district size of Bethlehem and surrounded by 27 ft high
walls and electrified fences. Many people describe it as a Ghetto or a
Bantustan (and the Israeli government calls such remaining Palestinian areas
in the Negev and elsewhere as concentration areas). But on the positive
side, the pressure of the occupation and the test of us make us better human
beings. The hundreds of internationals that participated in these activities
told us how honored and leased they were by having shared a meaningful
holiday season with us. Energized, we now planned much bigger activities for
this summer (stay tuned). Similarly, the Palestinians who participated in
the demonstrations or who even simply hosted internationals in their homes
or who even saw us on TV or read about us in newspapers all felt a sense of
hope and empowerment. For me personally, having a house full of
internationals sleeping everywhere eating together, working together, being
attacked by occupation authorities together was the best Christmas gift.
Come to think of it, that is what the message of that prince of peace born
over two millennia years ago was about. We are the descendents of those
first believing Shepherds who saw the star and believed in Jesus. Jesus born
in a country called Palestine was thus Palestinian by birth but when he grew
up he also challenged a Jewish ruler (Herod) put in place by a Western
government. History does repeat itself although with some variation but the
message of love and peace will eventually triumph. This Christmas from here
in the Shepherds’ field just down the hill from the Church of Nativity, we
sang “this in my heart, I do believe.we shall overcome someday” .. Merry
My wish this Christmas by Saed Bannoureh http://imemc.org/article/60149
Peace on Earth, even in Palestine! By Mazin Qumsiyeh
Palestine: Yet People Celebrate (Christmas 2010)
Another Christmas under Siege in the Holy Land By Father Dr. Faisal Hijazin
(Parish Priest of the Holy Family Catholic Church in Ramallah)
For more on us Christians here, please visit
Mazin Qumsiyeh, PhD
Author of “Popular Resistance in Palestine: A history of hope and
UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection
the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression
Joint Statement On Wikileaks
December 21, 2010 � In light of ongoing developments related to the release of diplomatic cables by the organization Wikileaks, and the publication of information contained in those cables by mainstream news organizations, the United Nations (UN) Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR) Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression see fit to recall a number of international legal principles. The rapporteurs call upon States and other relevant actors to keep these principles in mind when responding to the aforementioned developments.
1. The right to access information held by public authorities is a fundamental human right subject to a strict regime of exceptions. The right to access to information protects the right of every person to access public information and to know what governments are doing on their behalf. It is a right that has received particular attention from the international community, given its importance to the consolidation, functioning and preservation of democratic regimes. Without the protection of this right, it is impossible for citizens to know the truth, demand accountability and fully exercise their right to political participation. National authorities should take active steps to ensure the principle of maximum transparency, address the culture of secrecy that still prevails in many countries and increase the amount of information subject to routine disclosure.
2. At the same time, the right of access to information should be subject to a narrowly tailored system of exceptions to protect overriding public and private interests such as national security and the rights and security of other persons. Secrecy laws should define national security precisely and indicate clearly the criteria which should be used in determining whether or not information can be declared secret. Exceptions to access to information on national security or other grounds should apply only where there is a risk of substantial harm to the protected interest and where that harm is greater than the overall public interest in having access to the information. In accordance with international standards, information regarding human rights violations should not be considered secret or classified.
3. Public authorities and their staff bear sole responsibility for protecting the confidentiality of legitimately classified information under their control. Other individuals, including journalists, media workers and civil society representatives, who receive and disseminate classified information because they believe it is in the public interest, should not be subject to liability unless they committed fraud or another crime to obtain the information. In addition, government “whistleblowers” releasing information on violations of the law, on wrongdoing by public bodies, on a serious threat to health, safety or the environment, or on a breach of human rights or humanitarian law should be protected against legal, administrative or employment-related sanctions if they act in good faith. Any attempt to impose subsequent liability on those who disseminate classified information should be grounded in previously established laws enforced by impartial and independent legal systems with full respect for due process guarantees, including the right to appeal.
4. Direct or indirect government interference in or pressure exerted upon any expression or information transmitted through any means of oral, written, artistic, visual or electronic communication must be prohibited by law when it is aimed at influencing content. Such illegitimate interference includes politically motivated legal cases brought against journalists and independent media, and blocking of websites and web domains on political grounds. Calls by public officials for illegitimate retributive action are not acceptable.
5. Filtering systems which are not end-user controlled � whether imposed by a government or commercial service provider � are a form of prior censorship and cannot be justified. Corporations that provide Internet services should make an effort to ensure that they respect the rights of their clients to use the Internet without arbitrary interference.
6. Self-regulatory mechanisms for journalists have played an important role in fostering greater awareness about how to report on and address difficult and controversial subjects. Special journalistic responsibility is called for when reporting information from confidential sources that may affect valuable interests such as fundamental rights or the security of other persons. Ethical codes for journalists should therefore provide for an evaluation of the public interest in obtaining such information. Such codes can also provide useful guidance for new forms of communication and for new media organizations, which should likewise voluntarily adopt ethical best practices to ensure that the information made available is accurate, fairly presented and does not cause substantial harm to legally protected interests such as human rights.
Catalina Botero Marino
Inter-American Commission on Human Rights Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression
UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression